Robins collection. “My wife made me do these.”

My wife thought, as it was Christmas, we should paint Britain’s favourite plucky little bird. Our robins have proved every bit as popular as our ‘St Nicholas Sparrows’. We’ve had great feedback and some lovely comments on Facebook. The idea was that they could be hung as christmas tree decorations, given, gift wrapped, with an accompanying robin fact inside for the recipient to discover on opening! Did you know, for instance, that female robins also sing, holding their own territories in Winter! I never knew that!

‘The Robin and the Sparrow’. These two birds have a bit of history. ‘Who killed cock robin?” is a nursery rhyme many people will know, and the sparrow does not come out well. In answer to “Who killed cock robin?  “I, said the sparrow with my bow and arrow”, he confesses. It goes on to tell about all the birds assisting with the robin’s funeral. This rhyme is far older than I thought. It was first published in 1744, but there is reference to it in a 15th century stained glass window, in Gloucestershire! William Blake also brings them together in one of his poems, ‘The Blossom’, from ‘Songs of innocence.’

Merry, Merry Sparrow,
Under leaves so green
A happy Blossom
Sees you, swift as arrow,
Seek your cradle narrow,
Near my Bosom.
Pretty, pretty Robin!
Under Leaves so green
A happy Blossom
Hears you sobbing, sobbing,
Pretty, Pretty Robin,
Near my Bosom.
Here the birds are depicted as two sides of the same ‘coin’, flip sides of the human condition, Joy and sorrow.  The sparrow chipper and “Merry”, the robin “Pretty” and sad. Notoriously hard to interpret, Blake’s illustration for the poem has no birds in it at all, it depicts a flaming tree surrounded by cherubs! Many interpret the ‘blossom’, as a baby learning lessons from its mother, about life and death, love and sympathy, perhaps the Madonna and Child; maybe the Nativity (Birth) and the Pieta (Death) ? I feel I want to explore this further, but for now I’ll leave you with another of Blake’s poems , ‘Auguries of Innocence’ which begins with “A Robin Redbreast in a cage, puts all Heaven in a rage.” near the end, he says;
“Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know.
Safely through the world we go.


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